Iraq is devolving into open civil warfare, with the extremist group ISIS taking over cities and threatening to push into Baghdad. A number of things brought it to this point, including the “De-Ba’athification” instituted by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003, the readiness level of the Iraqi military, and the utter failure and corruption of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. We are left with an Iraqi state that is no state at all. There is no sense of nationalism among the populace, who define themselves as Sunni, Shi’a, or Kurd rather than as Iraqis. You can’t get people to fight for something they don’t believe in, and Iraqis don’t believe in their country or their government. Out of self-preservation, they are left having to side with the strongest actor in their region until a stronger actor comes and takes his place. Right now, that actor is ISIS, a brutal group that maintains power solely through fear and intimidation.
That leads us to the question of what do we do now? We no longer have American forces in Iraq. Contrary to the lies of John McCain and other conservatives who want to pin the blame on Obama, it was al-Malaki’s decision for all of our troops to leave. He refused to sign a Standard of Forces Agreement that would have exempted the US military from Iraqi laws. Al-Maliki didn’t want the US military in the way of his plan to fully purge all Sunnis from the government and solidify his relationship with Iran. In the absence of a SOFA agreement, Obama had no choice but to pull all of our military out of the country. To leave them there, subject to the whims of the Iraqi “justice” system, would have been a serious breach of his responsibilities as Commander in Chief. Can you imagine the outrage if one of our soldiers had been charged, tried, convicted, and executed by the Iraqi government?
If al-Malaki signed a SOFA agreement now, we could have US forces back in Iraq in short order, but I don’t know if that is the right move. Obama has made the right statements about us not helping without serious changes in al-Malaki’s government, but I think all we would be doing is giving him the military force he needs to gain control once again, then when we leave he’ll be back to his same old tricks. Besides, we’ve learned from 10 years of war in Iraq that you can’t just install and prop up a government and hope the people will follow.
In the short term, we will probably continue to provide intelligence and we will likely engage in limited air strikes and close air support (assuming the Iraqis have any troops on the field to support), but I don’t think it will succeed. I believe that without drastic measures by the US, Iraq will eventually fall. It won’t happen overnight, because Iran will send their forces in to battle the Sunni insurgents, but it will happen. Our only hope then will be to contain the insurgents within the country’s borders. That’s the least worst option, but it just kicks the can down the road for someone else to deal with later, most likely with yet another invasion.
There may be a way to resolve Iraq once and for all, and that’s through occupation and pacification. It would be a long process and would come at great cost, but it may be the only thing that will work.
Obama should draft a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for Iraq for Congress to vote on. The AUMF would lay out the required authorizations as well as the criteria for termination.
- Activate the draft immediately for all military-age US citizens, male and female. Provide no exemptions for anything other than physical condition and conscientious objectors. Those exempted would be required to provide service for an identical period in organizations such as Peace Corps, Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, etc.
- Declare Iraq a hostile state and authorize the use of all means necessary to eliminate the threat.
- Provide the US State Department, with cooperation from the Department of Defense, the authority to create and implement a new system of government.
- The AUMF will remain in force until Congress has determined that all objectives have been fully achieved.
- An Iraqi government that is stable, fully functioning, and recognized as legitimate among the Iraqi people.
- Elimination of all terrorist and insurgent groups within the Iraqi borders.
- Elimination of the Iraqi populace placing ethnic identities over national identity.
- Iraqi populace pride and belief in their government.
This is not a 10 or even 20 year process. It will take generations to change the mindset of the Iraqi people, but I don’t believe peace is possible without that happening. It will not take 100,000 or even 500,000 US troops. It will be on the order of 1,000,000+. For the first decade or two, our military would have to function as the police, the military, and the entire government. It will take that long to raise people who can fill those positions that have more loyalty to their country than to their ethnic group and who won’t turn tail and run the first time shots are fired at them. We would have to function as benevolent dictators, completely occupying and pacifying the country. We would have to go door-to-door and disarm the entire populace to reduce the threat to our troops.
I recognize that this is an extreme step with no guarantee of success, but the strategy we’ve been following for the past few decades is doomed to certain failure. This approach would not be popular on the left or on the right and I’m sure I’ll take some arrows for even suggesting it. This approach would never happen because the political risk is too great for the President and members of Congress, but if you honestly believe that what is happening in Iraq is vital to the national security of the US, you have to be willing to do what it takes to fix the problem and that’s what I think it will take.